Rain for the Sahel and Sahara

Rain for the Sahel and Sahara (RAIN) forges partnerships with nomadic and rural desert peoples of West Africa to realize their ambitions for education and enduring livelihoods with a focus on empowering girls and women with learning and earning.
Nov 22, 2013

Sustainability and New Livelihoods: S&L Groups

Akokan mentor Fourera with knitting machine
Akokan mentor Fourera with knitting machine

Small enterprise initiatives have been an integral part of RAIN’s array of tranformative programs since 2006. In 2011, we initiated a Savings & Loan pilot program with the mentors in the community of Akokan, Arlit. 

We choose the S&L model over microfinance because we feel it’s imparative that members invest their own funds after the initial seed investment provided by RAIN. Members are regularly astounded when they discover how their contributions grow over time. Saving is not a part of nomadic culture, and S&L's serve to teach the concept of saved sums adding up towards a common goal. Once trained, mentors will not only run their own S&L groups, some will go on to become community trainers independently. 

Pilot Program: The Mentors of Akokan

The Akokan women's mentor group of Arlit first began in 2005. Since then, the members have come to know and trust each other, and have created a strong partnership with the local school, supporting themselves and their program with a herd of goats provided by RAIN. The next goal: achieve sustainability for the 16 mentors and 82 at-risk girls for the next two years.

When asked what new activity they would like to pursue to generate more funds, the women expressed that creating a group enterprise would be difficult, that they prefer a program that will allow them to work independently. And so the idea of a savings and loan program to support each member's own enterprise was mutually proposed.

  • A savings credit of $200 was provided by RAIN in November of 2011 as a seed fund for the program.  In order to grow their funds, each of the 16 mentors deposits 30 cents per week ($4.80 per week for the group). After the first four months, the funds saved totaled $275 (a significant sum in Niger). Each mentor contributed, in addition to principal, 10% of the loan amount to the program.
  • The average loan amount is $50, repaid within three months. Income generating activities that these loans have supported include the practice of embouche (purchasing of a small goat that is then fattened to sell), making food products for sale at the local market, making and selling clothes, and augmenting the goat herds provided by RAIN. All members have reported a profit.

"With this activity, I acquired a knitting machine with a value of $160, from which I will continue to profit."
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Fourera Alassane, Akokan mentor 

Looking Ahead: New S&L Groups

Armed with knowledge from the Akokan pilot program, RAIN will be initiating new S&L groups of 25-30 women in 2014, based on the Oxfam model, tailored to unlettered women complete with a written reference guide and regular monitoring. We hope to initiate S&L groups in all of our partner communities, starting in the food insecure Tillaberi region of Niger. 

During the first year, bi-weekly meetings will be regularly monitored by RAIN’s Tillaberi field agent, Akhmoud Mawala. A native Nigerien Tuareg who resides in Ingui, Akhmoud worked with RAIN Niger Program Director Brian Nowak as a master teacher in our adult bilingual literacy program. Akhmoud is an excellent teacher and trainer.The first three months consist of building the bank with savings, followed by distribution of the loans and repayment. In order to effectively follow the oral monitoring system used by the mentors, Akhmoud will maintain an independent written log of loans and repayment along with individual accounts regarding how the funds were used by each member.

The benefits of S&L groups for mentors and other women in nomadic partner communities are many, including:

  • Women form extra familial bonds with other women in the village, creating a new network of social relationships.
  • Participants become more independent economically through the use of small loans and an annual remittance (access to cash for medical emergency, small business start-up fund, school fees, etc).
  • Members become empowered by independently managing the S&L group for long-term socio-economic support.
  • A growing interest in savings and loans and financial planning is fostered.
  • Men recognize the importance of women’s economic activities and independence at the community and family level.

Savings and loan programs organize mentors, solidify their relationship as community advocates and provide economic assistance. With no access to traditional credit, rural women in particular need support to become more economically independent. With that support, they hold the key to lifting their communities out of poverty. Studies have shown that women invest 90% of their earnings in their families while men spend 40% at home. While many men work or volunteer in RAIN programs, we have found that women have greater appreciation for the importance of education, and are motivated to contribute their time and earnings to improve their children’s prospects.

Our goal is to create in each community an array of learning and earning groups that together raise the economic and educational well-being of the local population. With your help, savings and Loan groups provide long term socio-economic support while fostering program self sufficiency and community independence.

Akokan mentors with goats.
Akokan mentors with goats.
Akokan mentors with Bess
Akokan mentors with Bess

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Oct 11, 2013

Cure Salee Prize Winners and an Artisan Interview

Ouma displays a tote bag
Ouma displays a tote bag

Wodaabe artisans take the prize for RAIN

At the yearly Cure Salee Festival in In'gall, the Wodaabe women artisans who create products based on their legendary embroidery heritage joined Bess in proudly displaying their unique wares for sale. Though there are many throughout the year, September is the "official" nomadic festival marking the end of the wet season and the start of the dry season. For centuries, pastoral people have brought their herds to the salt licks and to take part in salt cures for themselves as well. It's time for reuiniting with other clans, planning for the upcoming season, and to meet potential marraige partners. The local celebrations are fascinating, especially the Wodaabe dancing and Tuareg camel races. It was quite a spectacle: both Wodaabe and Tuareg performers made appearances ifor various competitions -- Tuaregs with donkeys decked in full wedding regalia and camels fully outfitted in their traveling gear and good luck charms, women drumming and men dancing; and the Wodaabe men performing their gerewol dances for potential partners. 

This year, RAIN artisans were awarded First Prize at the festival for a blouse made of traditional woven cotton featuring a hand embroidered cell phone pocket in traditional Wodaabe design. The judges declared the piece a perfect marraige of traditional craft with modern design. The prize? 4 sacks of cattle feed, 2 sacks of rice, 2 tee shirts and $100! Our booth received a special visit from Niger Prime Minister and RAIN friend Brigi Rafini to wish us "Bon Courage!"

Meanwhile, back in Agadez, we had the chance to talk with artisan Ouma Aama.

Ouma Amaa is the head of the RAIN Albaye Leather Cooperative as well as president of all Agadez women artisans. Ouma, a leather artisan in the Tuareg tradition, was absolutely thrilled when RAIN won the embroidery contest.

Ouma: "Thank you, Bess. RAIN is the only organization in Agadez that recognizes and promotes the traditional work of women artisans."  She extends her best wishes and thanks to supporters like you for making this work possible.

Straw + Leather = Fabulous!

In a perfect marraige of two traditions, the women artisans of In'gall, who work primarily in straw, are collaborating with the RAIN Albaye leather artisans to create gorgeous tote bags in vibrant colors of Tuareg tradition: magenta, ochre and deep turquoise. We can't wait to offer these gems of beauty and good karma for sale in the U.S. - visit our website very soon if you'd like to own one for yourself or a good friend. You won't find these at Macy's!

Platform where dyed leather is shaped with a stone
Platform where dyed leather is shaped with a stone
Ouma and her mother, In
Ouma and her mother, In'gall
RAIN founder Bess & Niger PM at Cure Salee
RAIN founder Bess & Niger PM at Cure Salee
Artisan wares on display at the festival
Artisan wares on display at the festival
Wodaabe men dance the gerewol at Cure Salee
Wodaabe men dance the gerewol at Cure Salee

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Sep 3, 2013

A place for rural students in Niger to thrive

Dafada embroidering
Dafada embroidering

In December of 2012, RAIN took on a student learning center and dormitory in the northern city of Agadez in Niger. The center is a place where nomadic students, especially girls, can find the opportunity to continue their education beyond primary school not available in the remote hamlets in which they live. We know that keeping girls in school is important to you, and would like to introduce you to the students at the center and share some of the programs we have planned for the next year. 

Niger Program Director Brian Nowak and Halima Aboubacar, Specialist for the Promotion of Women and Children, spent extended time onsite this spring to gain a good sense of the students’ needs and interests. These children of the desert are away from home in a foreign place, a city of 30,000 people. They are used to the open air, to the stars and the winds. To learn here, they must feel comfortable and cared for. The Learning Center is a place where they live; where they eat, sleep, bathe and study. It is their home for two to three years.

While scholarship remains the primary goal of the program, we plan to include workshops focusing on leadership and roles in society. Nomadic rural populations in Niger are on the fringe of society, and we feel it's important to instill skills of engagement with which to represent themselves in their country. Another important goal is providing, in addition to academic tutoring, the same life guidance our mentors provide to girls in our mentoring programs. We hope to bring in new mentors, drawing upon the women in our Agadez leather artisan cooperative, to receive mentoring training and meet with the students each week. This year we will be expanding the budding recreational program to include instruction in leatherwork for Tuareg girls as well as the current embroidery activities provided for the Wodaabe students, to be provided by the mentors. The students plan on decorating their domitory with their crafts, and certain items will be brought to market in Agadez to generate spending money for them.  

Last fall, Halima Aboubacar joined the RAIN team. A Tuareg woman, Halima co-taught along with Brian last year nutrition and hygiene to women gardeners and mentors in partner communities. Now relocating to Agadez, Halima will become a regular presence at the learning center, overseeing the mentoring and practical skills programs. Caring, yet an effective disciplinarian, the students know trust her; many of the girls call on her with questions and concerns. 

We are thrilled that we are seeing mentored girls become the first girls in their communities ever to graduate primary school. For the upcoming school year, we plan to invite these girls to the learning center program as spaces become available so they may follow their success by going onto middle school.

The Niger school system is based on the French system, which starts with six years of primary school (1 - 6), followed by four years of middle school (7– 10), then three years of high school (11 –13). Beyond middle school, nomadic students must then go on to the capital of Niamey to attend high school. RAIN plans on creating a fund to support these students as they graduate from middle school and transition from the learning center. 

Investing in a girl's future is investing in the world's future. Girls that stay in school delay marriage, have fewer children and earn higher incomes. The rural poor of Niger are marginalized, but with more educated citizens will be more empowered. As RAIN expands the center and is able to recruit increasing numbers of students, we expect to set a new precedent in Niger and inspire the government as well as other NGO's to open similar centers for nomadic children.

Intrigued? Visit our project page! We have until October 28th to raise $5,000 on GlobalGiving for this project.  

Fatima proud of her work.
Fatima proud of her work.
Halima Aboubacar
Halima Aboubacar

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